The Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)
The film follows Jesse (Elle Fanning), who has recently arrived in LA and is attempting to break into the competitive modeling industry. When Jesse finds early success with some of the industry’s biggest names, other women in the industry become dangerously fixated with her youth and beauty.
Littered with collection of poor performances (they were really ACTING here), Abbey Lee’s fierce bitchy model and Keanu Reeve’s creepy-as-hell motel manager steal each scene they are in. Refn’s signature blues and reds play a starring role here (he’s colourblind, he uses these colours because he can see them), as does dreamy, other worldly cinematography and a pulsating electric score (think Goblin and Tangerine dream) from frequent collaborator Cliff Martinez. While the technical aspects of the film are almost faultless, the story lacks depth and intrigue, and I found that I became bored on several occasions. Supposedly a film about beauty, the point is perhaps a little bit too thin – as shallow as the beauty industry itself.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (Dir. Edward Zwick)
Reacher (Cruise) is drawn back into military business when he discovers that Major Susan Turner (Cobie Smulders) is being framed for espionage. After busting her out of prison, the two must avoid capture, all while trying to clear both their names. Their mission is complicated by a ghost from Reacher’s past, who could have serious implications on his future.
This film has been given a rough assessment by some, many of whom elevate it’s predecessor Jack Reacher to heights which that film quite doesn’t deserve. While Never Go Back lacks an opener with as much punch and misses the pizzaz of Herzog’s villain, it is an entertaining action film, with the always charismatic Tom Cruise doing the Tom Cruise action star thing. Smulders is great here, and the no bullshit Major Turner is an equal in both brains and brawn to Cruise’s Reacher. Action sequences are well choreographed and edited; and the film has a refreshingly uncliched ending. It won’t go down as one of the great action films of our time, but it’s a solid couple of hours at the cinema.
The Girl on the Train (Dir. Tate Taylor)
Adapted from the wildly popular novel of the same name, The Girl on the Train is a mystery-drama about 3 women – 1 missing, 1 mother, and 1 drunk (Emily Blunt). Our drunk travels into the city on the train daily, looking at homes she can see from the train and imaging the lives the people in them live. Switching perspectives between the 3 women, the film weaves a tale of complicated domesticity and abuse.
While Blunt is reliably excellent, the film is largely forgettable – much more suited as a late-night weekend watch with a bottle of wine, than a trip to the cinemas. The small cast means the key mystery in the film isn’t all that mysterious, although the some thrilling moments did raise my heart rate. Aside from moving the story from England to America, the film largely hits the same beats as the book. I was surprised at the brutality of the violence in the film though; perhaps my mind censored those aspects of the book.
Cafe Society, which premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and opened the festival, is the 47th feature film by Woody Allen. With a budget of $30 million, it is also his most expensive film to date. These days you typically know what you’re going to get from a Woody Allen film, and his distinctive opening credits are immediately a dead giveaway. But, he still seems to possess the capacity to surprise, and the visually splendid Cafe Society is one such example.
With Jesse Eisenberg again standing in as the Woody Allen surrogate (he’s actually done this before in the awful To Rome With Love), Woody turns his lens on 1930’s Hollywood, as a young New Yorker (Eisenberg), trying to make a career out West, finds his dreams dashed when he falls in love with Vonnie (Kristen Stewart), the assistant of his talent agent uncle, Phil (Steve Carrell).
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Dir. Tim Burton)
Based on the 2011 novel of the same name by Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children follows Jacob (Asa Butterfield) who locates the home for children after following clues given to him by his grandfather (Terence Stamp). Ruled over by the titular Miss Peregrine (a very charismatic Eva Green) the home is a safe place for children who are different from the average child, in rather weird and wonderful ways. All is not good in the world of the peculiar however, and the home’s residents find their safety jeopardised by some rather frightening creatures.
Directed by Tim Burton, the film is very much two completely different beasts. The first half an almost snooze-worthy pile of exposition and explanation about the world and how it all works. There’s also far too much time spent on the relationship between Jacob and his father (Chris O’Dowd), which is rather dull and of almost no consequence to the developments further on. Once you hit the second hour however, the film becomes a creepy and eccentric adventure in supernaturalism and strangeness. A fight sequence between a variety of unnatural beings, set to pumping electronic music, is one of the more entertaining action sequences I’ve seen in some time.
While Burton certainly nails the story’s more bizarre elements, the plodding first hour really lets the film down. Asa Butterfield is also a disappointment – he just doesn’t have the star quality to pull off the role. It’s hard to see who the audience for this film is – it’s far too scary for younger kids, but not scary enough for teens.
The Red Turtle (Dir. Michael Dudok de Wit)
Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is co-production between Wild Bunch and Japan’s famous Studio Ghibli. It is the story of a man who becomes a stranded on an island which is devoid of human life, but filled with various plant and animal life. After several attempts at escape, the man accepts his fate as a castaway, and we observe his life at various stages.
It is the simplicity of The Red Turtle that makes it so powerful. The film is dialogue-less, which serves to remove all distractions from what plays out on-screen. The utterly stunning visuals and beautiful sound design are completely transformative, and you feel as if you are there, watching on in silence. I found the restraint and straightforwardness of the depiction of the life cycle to be incredibly profound, and I was brought to tears several times. I adore this film and I can’t recommend it highly enough – it’s like balm to the soul in these noisy times.
Life, Animated (Dir. Roger Ross Williams)
Owen Suskind was a bubbly young boy until at age three, when he withdrew into his own mind and stopped communicating with others. After many specialist trips Owen was diagnosed as autistic, and his parents are devastated that there was no “quick fix” for their son. While Owen may have stopped talking, his love for all things Disney had never waned, and it was one of the shared activities that the whole family still enjoyed. It turned out that Owen was doing more than just watching the films, he was studying them, processing them, and soon he was using them as a tool to help him both communicate, and understand the world around him.
Owen’s story is told through a tapestry of interviews with friends and family, home movie clips, interviews and interactions with Owen himself, as he and his family are preparing for him to move out of home and into assisted living for the first time. The film also continues some beautiful original animation – the medium he feels at ease with – to bring parts of his story to life. While the film does gloss over some of Owen’s tougher times, it does a reasonably good job at showing the many challenges he and his family face. It’s an inspiring story, and as a film lover, I found it difficult to not feel overwhelmed at the power these films have for Owen and those around him. I may have cried, just once or twice.
By Sam McCosh
I watched a total of 24 films in September, which was well down on previous months, but I made up for that with TV viewing. I watched 45 episodes of TV. I found viewing in small-bites more relaxing this month, often finding myself unable to commit to a film. But, in finding shows I liked, there was motivation to binge. September was also a bit of a dead month – both theatrically and on home entertainment. Missing Sully was unfortunate, but there wasn’t too much else I was sorry to miss, and most of the home entertainment releases I had already seen. October offers some exciting releases in The Neon Demon, Elle and Hell or High Water and hopefully the chances to see Arrival and American Honey.
I spent the first three weeks of September working through the epic 2013 Man Booker Prize winner, The Luminaries, which is right up there with A Little Life as the book of the year for me.
On the music front, it was also a weak month. I did enjoy Angel Olsen’s My Woman and Young Thug’s Jeffery, but I struggled to get into Frank Ocean’s highly-anticipated Blonde.
TV was the hero of September. I seemed to enjoy watching other people struggling with life – most specifically in regards to relationships, parenthood and professions. Joe Swanberg’s Easy featured brilliant writing, Catastrophe followed up its hilarious first season with some very unexpected dark turns in its second, while Love was pure addiction. I haven’t yet discovered the pinnacle of Bojack Horseman, but I look forward to working through seasons two & three during October.
Brief thoughts on some of my viewing in September after the jump: